So, You've Decided to Write a Book
So, you want to enter the high-paced, action-packed world of literature as an author. Congratulations on taking the first of many (many, many, many) steps toward creating a published work. Here, we’ll walk through some of the fundamentals to keep in mind as your journey kicks off. Just [Redacted for your own sanity] steps left to go to publication, so let’s get started!
Everything You’ve Read About Writing Might Be Wrong (For You)
Here’s the thing about the act of writing: it is deeply personal. While there are things in the structures of a novel we can all point to and agree on, the act of actually making one tends to vary wildly. This is why I open pretty much ever entry about my own process with the huge caveat “This might not work for you” at the top.
There is no single piece of advice I can give you more important than this: Your process will be your own. By all means use the authors you admire as starting off points, try their production methods and see how it works for you. Just don’t stick to them like they’re gospel. If writing for an hour a day gets you better results than putting a minimum thousand words down daily, then go with that, even if it isn’t what your particular inspiration does.
It’s going to be a lot of trial and error to figure out what method of writing works optimally for you, and the answer might very well change over the years. From outlining, to character development, to writing, to editing; every book has several phases that you’ll slowly find your favorite ways to handle. Be open, be experimental, and be honest with yourself about the results. Ultimately, when you find a method that results in work you’re proud of, keep chasing that.
Your First Book(s) Will Be Bad
There’s a bizarre expectation in the arts, people genuinely think that if they’re destined for greatness it will be apparent from the moment they touch the keyboard/canvas/strings/etc. For reference, that makes about as much sense as expecting to win a marathon on your first run. Arts aren’t magic, they’re a skill like any other, and that means they require training to improve.
Yes, the first book you write will almost certainly suck. Mine did, as did those of every other author I’ve spoken to on the topic. That’s okay. More than okay, really. Necessary. Writing is a skill that improves, as most skills do, the more you practice. It’s going to take you a fair bit of writing to start finding your own voice, seeing your weaknesses, and figuring out how you like to structure a plot. This is where a lot of folks fall off, thinking they have no talent because the works aren’t immediately coming together, but don’t be misled. You write good books by doing the bad ones until you improve.
While these might be great pieces to take to a workshop or critique group, you’ll likely want to hold off on publishing until you’ve reached a point where you feel more comfortable with your skills. For starting out, focus on learning, figuring out where you shine brightest and where you need more polish. These are the kinds of fundamentals that you’ll be working on through your whole career, so best to get started early.
Ground Your Expectations
I don’t want to say “rein in” because the truth is this career does have a pretty high ceiling, so there aren’t many dreams that are too outrageous. However, the number of writers who’ll ever hit that level are so few they might as well be pictures of Mr. Rogers angry: rare if not mythical. While the movie depictions of writers as wealthy wordy charmers is nice, it’s also crazy off base. Ignoring the fact that the majority of writers skew toward introversion, it’s a job like any other. We (hopefully) make enough to stay in the black year after year, but the crazy money slides to the household-names.
Same goes for aspects like fame, clout, opportunities, so on. Would those be cool? Sure. Are they what mark a successful writing career? Holy shit I hope not. In the real sense, a successful writing career is something you have to define for yourself. Maybe it’s getting one book out, or professionally published; whatever goal you set and accomplish. But speaking in very broad terms, a large portion of writers would consider the benchmark of success to be living off your work as a writer.
I don’t say that to imply it’s a box you need to check, rather just to demonstrate how much ground there is to cover between writing those first words and the household-name dreams. There are entire levels of success to work through before hitting that point. Try and aim for something hittable in the early days, accomplishable goals that will put you further down the path. You get there a step at a time, so keep focus on what your next moves are.
Keep It Fun
At the end of the day, this isn’t the job the get into if you want to chase fame, fortune, or stability. There are much better avenues to all those things than literature. What we do have going for us, however, is that we love what we do. The joy of getting to create and share your work is incredible, and for some folks one taste is all it takes to get hooked.
That’s what I mean by “Keep it Fun”. The story can be as serious or light as you want, what matters is that you’re enjoying the act of creation. When you hit a hurdle or a crossroads, especially in the early experimental days, veer into whatever option makes you the most excited. It might seem silly, but learning to steer into the fun is a big helper in making books that excite you, and in hanging onto the enjoyment even as the years stack up.